Billboard Blight



Bordering Highway 101, as if inviting a monkey wrench daydream, are 30 or so billboards that block views of Humboldt Bay and its surroundings. They intrude on vistas of shimmering tidal flats where shorebirds poke their beaks into the mud, or on green, gleaming wetlands where cattle graze.

And they endure. Wes Chesbro and Dan Hauser tilted at billboards back in the 1970s, when both men were on the Arcata City Council. No luck.

The North Coast Railroad Authority sued in 2010, trying to get 14 billboards along the bay pulled down. No luck. In May 2011, just a few weeks before the trial would have begun, authority lawyer Christopher Neary found an old legal settlement that just "blew us out of the water," he recalled last week. The 1993 document basically acknowledged that many of the billboards are on land owned by Bracut Lumber Co., and Bracut has the right to lease them out to advertisers. The suit was dismissed.

Neary still plans to ask his board next month to take on two billboards not included in that settlement. Both are very close to the freeway on the water side of 101, but Neary isn't sure what they're advertising right now.

Caltrans, meanwhile, revoked permits in August for two billboards, one advertising Bailey Mortgage and the other NHS Hydroponics. Caltrans argues that the landowner, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hasn't given permission for them to be there. CBS, which owns the billboards on Fish and Wildlife land, is appealing, and an administrative law judge is scheduled to hear that case in May.

If people really dislike billboards, there's a simple solution, according to one landowner who rents space to billboard companies.

"They can buy the property and do whatever they want with it," says Jim Hoff, who co-owns land along the bay from roughly the Indianola cutoff to a line of eucalyptus trees to the south. His property hosts four or five billboards, by his own count, including ones advertising Applebee's and the Best Western Humboldt Bay Inn.

"If somebody makes me a reasonable offer, I'm certainly not going to turn them down," Hoff says. "I'm in business."

In case you can't afford that, you can always vote in the North Coast Journal's Ugliest Billboard Contest. The contestants line Highway 101 where it borders the bay, running from the bridge over the Eureka slough on to the Samoa Boulevard exit in Arcata. You tell us which one of the billboards and other sundry signage -- more than any other -- makes this an uglier place to live.


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